Learning How To Program

Here’s what it’s like to go from being a clinician to being a scientist.

You take what you know about your topic. Let’s call that Level 6 knowledge (on a scale of 0 to 10). You think to yourself, “That ain’t bad!”, after all you are a specialist in your chosen field. Medical students think you’ve memorized the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine. House Officers tremble at the thought of being quizzed by you during ward rounds, and Medical Officers bow down to your expertise.

Pretty soon after the start of your PhD, you’ll realize that what you thought of as Level 6 is actually Level 1 or 2 knowledge in the grand scheme of things. After all, you may know a little bit here and there about a variety of topics, but for your PhD you’ll need to ramp up the level of expertise. You need to push the dial to Level 11 if possible. If Level 10 is the limit of what the world knows about something, then your job is to take it up a notch and discover something new.

So yeah, in summary, it ain’t easy doing a PhD (yay it rhymes!).

Now the good news is that you don’t have to do it overnight. You have time, but seriously, there’s a LOT to learn!

One new thing I’m learning at the moment is programming. Full disclosure: I am a noob at this, so take whatever I say here with a pinch of salt. From what I can see, a lot of neuroscience research is done with MATLAB, R, and Python. Without any context available, I’d probably say that you should try to learn Python first. But the reality is you will probably end up having to learn all of them simultaneously.

MATLAB

I’ve heard that the best way to learn a programming language is by using it to solve a problem you’re having. My problem right now is that I need to analyze the data on working memory I’ve collected thus far and turn it into a presentation for my group’s lab meeting. Should be fun, right? What could possibly go wrong…

Integrity

One of the benefits of being in Oxford is the chance to attend lectures by people who are leaders in their respective fields. I recently went to a talk given by Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. One part of his speech really resonated with me (emphasis mine):

Many people have been asking, what does it take to be a good and sustainable leader? To my mind, beyond working hard and working smart, there are three prerequisites to becoming a good and sustainable leader; Unquestionable Integrity; Competence; and Humility.

Integrity is about “doing the right thing even when no one is watching”. Competence is about having the necessary knowledge and skills to do the job well. Whilst humility is about treating people with mutual respect, about staying grounded to our roots and about being cognisant that we all serve a greater purpose in life rather than for our self-interest. Humility is also about knowing that you don’t know everything and that you need teamwork in order to succeed.

A competent, humble leader with unquestionable integrity and who works very hard will enjoy a reputation that will precede him.

Thoughts On Social Media

Social media usage is a complete disaster, mmmkayyy?

Next question!

I’m joking, obviously. It’s like the title of Ben Goldacre’s superb book, ‘I Think You’ll Find It’s A Bit More Complicated Than That’. In fact, if you’re really interested in the non-glamorous side of social media, I’d definitely recommend a couple of books about the topic:

  1. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  2. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

I am somewhat undecided when it comes to social media use. If anything, I’d probably lean towards saying the net effect is to cause more harm than good. Although information is a good thing, too much information, without any kind of context can lead to conflict. I often tease my wife whenever she shares with me stuff she finds online. “OMG, apa kata netizen nanti???” (OMG, what would the netizens say about this?).

Here’s what one netizen (i.e. me) thinks about some of the social networks available these days:

Facebook

Hate it and love it. I hopped onto the Facebook bandwagon fairly early on, back when you had to have a university email address in order to become a member. I have a lot of content, and more importantly, friends on Facebook that I would lose if I deleted my account. But damn do I feel like deleting my account every time I come across another ignorant comment, rude remark, or false claim there. To be clear, I don’t expect it to be any different on other social networks, but most (if not all) of my social media use is restricted to Facebook these days, so that’s where I encounter this sort of behaviour most often. And don’t get me started on their utter lack of respect for your privacy!

Instagram

Used it for a while, long enough to come to the conclusion that I wasn’t getting anything out of it. Decided to switch to posting photos on my own blog, so instead of Instagram, I now have Imran-stagram! Deleted my account, and now some random guy on a motorcycle owns the account. If you were following me previously and are now wondering why I’m sitting astride a yellow motorcycle, well, that’s the reason why…

Twitter

I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for Twitter as I’m pretty sure it helped me get a place to do a DPhil at Oxford. I know a lot of scientists use it very effectively. Sadly, I’m not one of them. I’ve tried various apps to make it a more useful tool, but ended up being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tweets and giving up on it.

LinkedIn

Maybe if I worked in the corporate world? But as for now, I have zero interest in LinkedIn.

To be clear, I’m not a hermit. I enjoy chatting with people. However, I must admit I’d prefer to be in a conversation with two or three people at most. I feel like that’s how all the interesting, deep, and useful conversations begin. YMMV, obviously. Thanks for reading!